Hundreds of riot police used pepper spray and batons to disperse peaceful student protesters at Hong Kong's Civic Square earlier today, September 27. Roughly 75 protesters have been arrested.
For the past week, thousands of university and high school students have boycotted classes, gathering in Tamar Park to demand that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chung Ying open a public dialogue about election reform.
The Beijing framework set by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress requires candidates for Hong Kong's top leader, the chief executive, to get majority support from a nominating committee before running for office. This new principle, which guarantees the candidates of the chief executive will be pro-Beijing, does not enjoy wide support in Hong Kong. Leung, ignoring public opinion, has insisted that the Beijing framework keeps Hong Kong on the path of democratic development. He has refused to meet face to face with student protesters, accusing them of being “irrational”.
Over the past week, protesters had made several failed attempts to force Leung into a public debate. On September 26, a pro-Beijing group reserved Tamar Park for another function. At 10:30 p.m., student protesters decided to move their assembly from the park to Citizen Square in front of the main government building, which is designed as a public space but has been sealed off with barricades since June.
About 200 students managed to penetrate the barricades and enter Civic Square, but police stopped the rest of the demonstrators. As riot police attempted to enter the square in pursuit of the students inside, other protesters raised their hands (to show they were unarmed) and formed a human shield to block the officers. Confrontations broke out in various spots, and police ended up pepper spraying the peaceful protesters. So far, around 13 student leaders and 61 protesters have been arrested.
Hong Kong Apple Daily has released a video about the confrontation:
Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of a high-school activist group called “Scholarism,” was handcuffed during his arrest. He is accused of participating in illegal assembly, disturbing public order and forcing entry into a government building. The police rejected his bail application.
Soon after news of clashes spread on social media, many people rushed to the scene at midnight to join the student protest. Hinhope, a local teacher, was among one of these late arrivals. Writing online, he described what he witnessed overnight:
9. 人鍊、耐性：守在公民廣場入口那條路上，七到八排學生組成的人鍊陣，堅定不移，手勾手，就站在那兒，站了一整晚。他們的眼神，透視出非一般的耐性 […] 大多是年輕的女孩子。
1. Students and ordinary citizens were injured: The only violence I witnessed came from police. Some police used their batons to shuffle students and citizens who were just standing nearby. The police also pepper sprayed young protesters directly in their faces and seriously hurt them.
2. Umbrellas and water: You can see students and people from behind kept passing umbrellas and water to those who were near the police. The umbrellas were to block the pepper spray and water was to clean their faces and reduce the pain. […]
3. Hands up: The students and other citizens raised their hands to show that they were unarmed and would not fight back — people just stood there and occupied the space with their bodies to show their determination to struggle for democracy. But they were still pepper sprayed […]
9. Human shields and patience: On the road leading to Civic Square, students formed chains by holding each others’ hands. They just stood there for the whole night. You could see the patience in their eyes […] most of those standing on the frontline were young girls.
Citizen media platform inmediahk.net reporter Ng Cheuk Hang wrote on Facebook that he'd never before encountered such ruthless police behavior. He and other journalists captured on film several episodes of police pepper spraying demonstrators:
The situation this morning was like this: riot police used their shields to hit my backpacks and pepper-sprayed my face. I could bear the first blow, but the police forced against a wall other photo journalists and protesters standing in front of me. I was almost trampled, and then I was pepper sprayed over and over. The pain was unbearable.
After being treated by a medical team, I recovered. But another student was hit on his head and bled a lot. Another student fell down and was dragged along the ground by police. This is the most violent crackdown I have ever seen in Hong Kong. Does the government really need to call upon riot police to respond to students?
My heart is filled with pain.
Meanwhile, Hinhope is urging teachers to strike and stand up for their students next week:
Students were on the frontline, facing violence. Shouldn't teachers and others in related spheres strike with the students next Monday? Shouldn't we be preparing for a mass sit-in, to stand together with our students?
Police may have arrested dozens of protesters at Civic Square, but more demonstrators arrived and occupied the road in front of the government headquarters.
A number of civic groups have condemned the police for using excessive force. Thousands of people were still gathering in front of the government building at Civic Square protesting against police violence and calling for the release of protesters late at night on 27 September.
The police announced the evening assembly illegal and urged the crowd to disperse. Riot police were on hand in large numbers, standing by and ready to disperse the crowd, if ordered to do so.